There were wineries where, when you were done tasting, you could “feel your teeth,” a strange feeling of sensing each tooth individually, not exactly a pain, just a low level thrumming. Though I asked and asked I never really got a sustainable explanation why or how this would occur; it didn’t seem to entail tannins or phenols and it could happen with wines not especially high in acidity.
It came down to texture; it always comes down to texture. And I only bring it up now because Johannes Gross’ Goldatzel wines aren’t as applauded as they should be, and I’d like to understand why. Because I entirely adore them.
If you open a bottle or two and drink them down of an evening, you’ll wonder what I’m talking about. Remember that the “tasting environment” is a deliberate distortion, because no one ever makes a wine to go with fourteen other wines. Yet we render judgments, sometimes categorical judgments, based on how wines “show” in this very particular situation that we have contrived.
I’d be eager for a piece of bread and a big glass of water after tasting here. That didn’t happen at, say, Künstler, though Gunter’s wines were similarly dry and detailed. My theory is, Goldatzer’s wines, though highly regarded, are underrated because they’re not flattered by being tasted in a single chunk of fifteen at once.
If you read the word “cerebral” you probably think nerd, which is both inaccurate and unjust. Goldatzel proprietor Johannes Gross makes wines of explication, not chilly, not aloof or introverted, just articulate to a point that’s oblique to seductiveness. Some of them hold me in quite a thrall, and I often feel a language being spoken to which I vibrate instinctively. Every wine doesn’t need a yum factor. We can be engaged and even moved, in other ways.
For me the special smartness of these wines aligns to my sense of the Rheingau in general. There are other places to find fruity or spicy or juicy wines; all over the place really. But I can’t think of another region where the wines are so impeccable. And this estate is a classic gem in a proper setting, not to mention the Rieslings smell amazing and taste wonderful.
2019 Spätburgunder Spätlese Trocken glug-glug-glug
The 2017, the first one I offered, came from the (GG-level site) Kläuserweg, in Geisenheim. This one doesn’t carry a site name. Nevertheless, it looks pretty – the limpid hue reminds me of Dautel’s PNs – and smells even nicer. It has 13% alc without chaptalization, so ripeness isn’t a problem.
That fragrance is wonderfully strange on closer study. Astride the varietal aroma is an herbal almost vetiver note typical from Rieslings from this site – but surely that cannot be? It’s a light-bodied wine, along lines of some of Breuer’s PNs, and so it won’t wash over you. The question is what lies below the brisk northern lucidity? It grows, after all, exactly at 50º N latitude.
Delicacy, sour-cherry and as much herbality (is that even a word??) as I’ve ever tasted in PN, it’s a wine you want to say is “interesting” because it is, but that word is understood to be a synonym for dubious, and I have no doubts about this wine except to say it’s for drinkers who don’t mind doing some of the work. If Johannes Gross has ambitions to make a bigger more succulent PN – and there’s no reason why he ought to – he’ll need to question the evident possibilities. If he’s just riffing (which to me would be really cool) then he’s got something (truly) interesting to show for it.
My only question is, how many people are willing to study a kindly pensive light wine that has nothing ingratiating about it? I fear I could fit them all in my kitchen. And I’d love to be wrong. Not to mention, PN has this thing where it expands and sweetens in the glass, which this tantalizingly fragile being seems to be doing. Let’s see what the days bring. I won’t be surprised to have to disavow much of the foregoing!
Second tasting two days later, and it leads with amazingly sweet fruit (!), so the early reticence is misleading. That said, the herbality perists, and so the wine becomes fascinating in its grinning sprite energy. The nearest cognate is Dautel’s Trollinger, another wine that advanced the frontiers of simple joy.
2019 Alte Reben, Spätburgunder Trocken
IMPORTANT NOTE: no wine I have tasted since this project began underwent a greater change than this one, between “examining” and “drinking.” Details at the end of the note.
13.5% alc now. Darker color. More determined aromas. Quite a different profile from the previous wine. Lower voice, more rumbly.
A surmise of CO2 brings a subtle – and I mean subtle – reduction. On the palate, this wine “has ideas,” as the saying goes. It reaches higher, and may or may not grasp what it reaches for. Sometimes I think it’s an error to reach for something dark-and-strong with PN, but if there’s embedded fruit waiting to unfold, my hesitancy will seem inane.
Stay tuned for the next installment of “PN: WTF?” free with your subscription to “The Unmoored Mind.”
Second tasting two days later, and this wine has weakened somewhat. It’s showing some char and what tastes to me like a use of oak that might have been more deft. For all its solemn affects, it strikes me as an earnest pretender. Tasters who respond to brooding richness and density will find that judgment unkind.
BUT WAIT: last night we had spaghetti and meatballs cooking. The sauce was perfuming the house, the meatballs were in the frying pan, the ‘sketty was ready to dump into the water, and I thought I’d pour a glass of this to drink while cooking and then take the lighter wine to the table to drink with the grub.
The wine was transformed. Full of fruit, no overweening oak, no brooding sourness, no char; just a fine chewy PN with plenty of joy. I took it outside to take a sip away from the food smells. No change.
If I’d let the original note stand unaltered, the producer might have thought “That doesn’t sound like my wine,” or “No one else has said that,” or perhaps it was a bottle that didn’t show well. Tasting is an examination to determine how a given bottle of wine “shows,” and I try to mitigate that by examining each wine in multiple ways, to arrive at an aggregate - or more poetically, at a holistic view. Yet even so, tasting is only a partial truth, even if it entirely true in its own context. The same is true of drinking, of course; another partial truth, of how a wine behaves when one is not micro-examining it and when it’s part of a nexus of cooking and conversing and eating. In this case it was two truths, competing yet interlocking, amounting to a kind of dissonance of judgment. Who was it who said “Truth is a sliding floor?”
2020 Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Kabinett Trocken ++
Why yes, “Kabinett Trocken” is archaic, and I am SO happy to see it.
First sniff – Daddy’s home! This is so much of what I crave from white wine in general and Riesling in particular, just this insane psilocybin clarity, as if you had never actually seen the world before.
Hasensprung is a cool Grand Cru, elevated, windswept flavors, some of the Turkish anise-seed we buy down at Formaggio Kitchen, some really sweet tarragon, some lime-leaf and conifer….and then the palate. Okay, what a flavor! Crisp enough to break a freaking tooth, green enough to make a salad from, yet with a sideways key-limey “sweetness” that’s like scratching the itch you can just barely reach.
I could wrack my brain to nail each scintilla of nuance, but suffice to say, he got this wine exactly, perfectly right. Each piece is precisely where it needs to be in this eerily seamless being, a mid-weight treasure that gives all we could ever ask for in the taste of a wine.
More pith and mid palate on third encounter (not counting a glass drunk as an aperitif one evening), and nothing to diminish my ardor.
2020 Goldatzel Glanzstück +
The back (or side) label says Rheingau Riesling Glanzstück Trocken, and the alc is gain 12% (as was the above).
This “jewel” plays on the legend of the thieving magpie – “Atzel” in the local dialect – which gives the (superb) site its name and which site gives the estate its name. Whether this wine hails from the (Goldatzel) site is unclear, and I seem to have tasted it out of order, based on the ex-cellar price. But wow, it smells fantastic.
In fact it’s a mélange of several sites and harvest times, mostly Kilzberg and Kläuserweg, and young vines in both.
If I say it’s the least bit less high-def than the Hasensprung, that’s in the context of a winery where everything is high-def, so we’re talking the difference between millions versus billions of pixels. This wine is comparatively luscious (as well as drier) than the above. It tastes like a rising flight of a flock of doves against a high white sky.
What a parlous time this is, mid-omicron, everyone in danger it seems. Most of the time I just want everyone to be all right; well, maybe not the anti-vaxxers – but everyone else. It’s a bitter prayer, that one. I have no idea what might heal it. The vision of a slew of doves lifting off silhouetted against a swollen cloud…seems to help a little.
The site Goldatzel – even if this isn’t among its citizens - gives the “sweet-green” flavors, jade-oolong teas, orchids, lilacs, sorrel, as though one might smell emeralds, somehow. All of it is here. But I’m thinking back to my summer bird, the dove I named Caroline, who squatted in an empty squirrel’s nest for a week, until she was rousted out by a bigger dove, and flew away. I wonder where she is, and if she’s okay. It isn’t easy to be a bird.
What a strange “tasting note” this is. Where is this piece of myself, when it isn’t hiding?
Meanwhile this wine just keeps singing its silvery song of green melons, a delicately perfect and perfectly delicate dry Riesling.
2020 Geisenheimer Kläuserweg Riesling Spätlese Trocken +
Up to the “big” wines now. It’s the broad-shouldered profile, and yet something in these wines makes them feel sleek even when they’re fuller bodied. And this wine really limns two crucial distinctions: one is the difference between “powerful” (which it isn’t) and strong (which it is), and the other is between “intense” (which it flirts with) and expressive (which it is in spades).
The vineyard is on a hill facing south midway between the river and the forests, and it’s a site where the sun-beats-down, and that sense of seething heat makes it into the wine along with a sense of nights-cooling-down, so you go to Kläuserweg for mojo but because this is a very special winery, you also receive precision and articulation, and these are things that don’t often ride in the same car. You also get the maize and green and meadow-flower thing that echoes Grüner Veltliner in a curious way. It’s a wine of gnarled calloused hands and sunburned faces.
I’m hugely impressed by the balancing act here, and my admiration for this exceptional wine is unqualified, but I am less in love with it than with the last two. My curious tastes!
2020 Bestes Fass +
Full name Johannisberger Goldatzel Riesling Spätlese Trocken
Alas, we have a STUPID HEAVY BOTTLE to contend with.
Since 1991 the estate has selected a single cask to represent the finest the vintage could give. It’s not necessarily the ripest wine – the Kläuserweg is riper – but it is the most quintessential.
If just one single wine could advance the argument that this vineyard deserves GG-status, it would easily – blatantly! – be this one. Its greeny vaporous being is allied to a depth one rarely sees from the cool sites. I’m sad that you won’t know what I’m talking about, but there are Winter-picked Alishan oolongs with this character, an almost creamy texture along with evanescent fruit and the sense of a thing that is permanently fresh.
Imagine a summer day in a warm spot and you’re sweaty and maybe a little tired of the heat, and your host says “Don’t worry, in this spot it always gets fresh at night; in fact almost exactly at 8:13pm you feel the first cool breeze…” And there you stand, and there it is.
The wine itself has a wicked finishing saltiness and a wrap-around almost analog generosity. And as excellent as it is, it feels like another few grams of RS would have catapulted it to an even more exalted level. The sometimes-phenolic touch at this estate is markedly evident here. Still, the sheer quality of the material prevails.
The wine changes on further tasting, today for the third time. It’s more resinously herbal now, still texturally aggressive (“needs food” would be the shorthand) but working from a broader base. This observation is obviously of limited value unless you planned to open the bottle and keep it five days, popping in to check its progress from time to time. And why would you do that?
It’s my job….
2020 Alte Reben ++
Full name Johannisberger Vogelsang Alte Reben Riesling
Mostly 70-+ vines in a loam-based vineyard with stones and sand in the topsoil; the old vines are at home with their deep root systems.
It’s another style. Vogelsang is umami, grainy, bake-y, not herbal and not fruity: savory. And woo hoo, this guy offers a shattering concentration somehow grafted on to an aerial energy itself holding hands with a kind of breathing stillness. And once you even start to suss how this thing could ever function, along comes this alpha-wave of minerality, yet different from the minerality that accompanies more “skeletal” wines – because this wine has meat. That is, meat, not fat! It’s also like spelt or faro or barley or consommé containing little dumplings of rampant mineral. You don’t drink it as much as suck it down.
It gets peppery in the glass, and starts to challenge the theoretical possibilities of dry Riesling in general. The last nuances are – I swear – basmati and ylang ylang.
2020 “Wie Im Fluge” Riesling
“As in flight,” or idiomatically, as time goes by. A wine of whim and caprice, ideally drunk in the early summer after the harvest, it has just 11.5% alc and smells like it was made to quench thirst.
It’s the first of their ‘20s to show a (charming) green note, just the faintest Sauvignon twang; it is certainly herbal and cressy, like you were playing with how many different greens you could throw into your salad. It arises from a pre-selection among many sites, and it floats around the upper limit for Trocken (nine grams) though the label, wisely, does not indicate. For all intents and purposes, it is dry.
I’m mindful that tasting it now, on a cold day after our first big snowfall, is inimical to its nature and function. Better to be sampling the new 2021 vintage, actually. But even so, it shows the signal virtues of this winery, freshness and clarity and transparency (and wildly vivid aromas), and constitutes a sort of granita of Rheingau Riesling.
Even so, it has much of the character of those ridiculously fresh aromatic bombshells we see from many Grüner Veltliner liters when they’re first released. Cousins.
Third look, from a Jancis glass this time, and the wine feels creamier, plus the green note is diminished, plus it seems less adamantly dry. Given its modest price, and its equally modest ambitions, this is a super admirable entry-level wine for the estate. For any estate!
2020 Johannisberger Goldatzel Riesling Kabinett feinherb ++
It has always been, for me, the emblematic wine for this laudable estate. And for them, “feinherb” is a drier wine than for many others.
If proof was ever needed – and it isn’t, not anymore, despite the unbelievers – that a few skooshes of residual sugar above the rigid “Trocken” limit could elevate a Riesling exponentially, you’ll find it here. It is for all intents and purposes a dry wine, but there are about 300% more nuances and elements in the flavor conversation.
It is more aromatic, both in volume and beauty of fragrance.
It is more animated and complex.
It has a markedly more balanced finish.
It has a far greater range of uses, especially at the table.
It is a vinous Ideal, and a vivid example of the uniqueness of German Riesling.
2020 Johannisberger Hölle Riesling Spätlese feinherb
The steep and stony site is based on quartzite with occasional thin overlays of gravel and sandy loam. The wines are an aesthetic antonym of the “sweetly” fragrant Goldatzel; this is the Rheingau as militant power. It’d be the wine for someone who objected that “Riesling are too frilly for me…” Ya think? Deal with THIS, ace.
To me it relates to the Alte Reben Trocken. It’s chewy, even phenolic. It’s crusty – it Means Business. It’s more impressive than charming, if it’s charming at all. I get what they wanted to do, but this wine isn’t sweet enough, in fact.
It smells wonderful, especially from the MacNeil Fresh & Crisp glass. There is quite a wash of toasted mineral on the palate, and I can easily imagine how impressive it would have seemed when the wine had all of its baby fat. It’s a stern wine, but I don’t mind that. It’s the middle and back palates where the tell-tale sweet/sour thing takes place, and I do mind that.
It will be interesting to see if this wine alters its shape over the days. And it has been suggested (more than once) that I refrain from issuing edicts as regards balance-points in wines, since everyone doesn’t share my taste. Well obviously. But neither I nor any other taster can claim to speak for Everypalate. Nor is it useful to lard my prose with endless “in-my-opinion(s)” because it is boring, and you already knowthat these are my opinions.
Thus, IMHO, with slavering apologies to everyone who has the temerity to have their own opinions, I assert here that this wine, for all its impressive attributes – and there are many – isn’t sweet enough. Disagree at your peril, tough guy.
I’m tasting it again – third time, Jancis glass – because all these wines have lost a little brilliance and gained a lot of middle over the days. Not surprising. When I took it outside (in 26º with god knows what wind-chill) it plumped out and didn’t seem as unknit. What this observation is worth, or how it might be applied, are open questions. But now, so is the wine.
2020 Johannisberger Hölle Riesling Kabinett +
It’s curious, or maybe not so curious, that despite this being less ripe than the feinherb Spät, it smells riper – which is to say, more complete and seamless. One could speculate that RS would gild the lily for the super-perfumey sites but the fructose aromas it introduces are helpful for a wine without a marked fruit profile of its own.
In any case, this is a perfect example of the estate’s not-sweet “sweet” Kabinetts, where sweetness is a silent partner content to remain silent. Here it creates a tangy angularity of structure and accents an herbal crunch like mixing fennel/dill/anise seeds into your sourdough boule. There are some high-toned spearminty aromas, probably from the vintage, that provide a pungent lift.
This wine will take repeated tastings to really grok. It’s in a developmental trough right now, between two phases, and somewhat un-integrated. Tasted now for the 4thtime, Jancis glass again, it’s far from mute but it doesn’t cohere. Nor is that a problem, because you’re not drinking it for another five years (if you want it at its best), but it does compel the question: What is Hölle asking for? Given that both the feinherb Spät and the Kabinett are less than tranquil at present.
What I need is Johannes Gross at the table, the evening stretching happily before us, and plenty of schnitzel to be had. Or, if we’re feeling more civilized, all the pike-perch we could ever hunger for. “What does Hölle” want?” would be the question of the hour.
2020 Winkeler Hasensprung Riesling Spätlese ++
10% alc, which is telling. Look at the huge number of mostly (but not exclusively) Mosel Späts with 8% or 9% - not to criticize the Mosel by any means! But 10% alc denotes a Spätlese that won’t be confectionary, won’t be one of those show ponies with 100+ grams of RS that get, god help me, “scores.”
We have here a stunningly excellent wine.
Though its texture is less melting, its fruit will remind you of Dönnhoff’s Kirschheck Späts. As will its length. As will its exquisite interior perfume, that lingers into the finish and doesn’t seem to fade at all. It is a sublimity of lime and melon, wonderfully chiseled and refined, vigorous and yet lacy, and holding on to the merest scintilla of fine botrytis that does its malty thing on the finish.
Hasensprung is a (too) large site, over-extended by the ’71 wine law, but one hopes future bottlings from this estate might use cadaster names to distinguish among its parcels. Meanwhile we have a tightrope-walker balanced Spätlese, not afraid of its sweetness because it is under control, infinitely detailed and delicate, a dream wine.
With repeated tastings, I’ve been chewing over the question “Could it be even less sweet?” and the answer seems to be no, both because it might be too pointedly minty in that case, and because the sweetness it carries augurs a long life, and because it isn’t annoyingly high regardless.